New Wind Farm Generates Money and Hope for Neqotkuk First Nation
Neqotkuk First Nation, formerly known as Tobique First Nation, started making money from their wind farm near Sussex.
The recent first payout was around $ 430,000 and Chef Ross Perley expects returns to only improve.
“We had problems with one of the turbines, which had been out of order for several months and we had expenses,” he said. “But putting it that way, the community should see on an annual basis, about $ 800,000 to $ 1.2 million in the future.”
Perley says he will invest the money in much needed infrastructure, including new housing and road repairs. He is also considering a wind energy bonus check that would be given to families, perhaps just before Christmas. “So they can do something for their children,” he said.
The Wocawson Energy Project is named after a Wabanaki legend. Wuchowsen is a giant spiritual bird on top of a mountain whose wings make the wind.
The mechanical turbines of the same name also inspire some fear.
Each tower rises to 131 meters, roughly the height of the Great Pyramid, and each blade is equivalent in length to the wing of a Boeing 747.
The blades make a rustle that some compare to a computer server room. Others say it’s more like the sound of the sea waves tumbling over a pebble beach.
They have been touring since December 2020, approximately 21 months after the start of the project.
Perley says he’s always been in favor of clean energy and reducing greenhouse gases, but his main motivation is to make Neqotkuk self-sufficient.
“I would say that over the past five years we have laid the foundation for our future success,” said Perley, whose community recently added amenities such as a beach pavilion on the Tobique River, a center for young people and a ball field.
Construction is also underway on new infrastructure to protect the community’s drinking water as well as a new waste diversion center.
“When I was running for chef, things were dark,” said Perley. “We had financial problems. We were in third party management. No one wanted to do business with us.”
An enthusiastic partner
Natural forces was an exception. The Halifax-based renewable energy company has grown its business by partnering with Indigenous communities on solar and wind projects.
The leaders were talking to the Neqotkuk band council as early as 2014.
Together, they got their case accepted by NB Power as part of the government’s Small Scale Renewable Energy Program (LORESS). They also authorized the environmental studies and, in 2018, signed a 30-year power purchase agreement with NB Power “for a good price,” Perley said.
Enercon, the German company that makes the turbines, has also signed a long-term maintenance contract that will cover the entire life cycle of the project, said Robert Apold, executive director of Natural Forces.
“So we feel very protected with this,” Apold said. “Communities can’t find millions of dollars if something goes wrong, so we make sure the risk is removed.”
The First Nation owns 51% of the wind farm. Natural Forces owns 49 percent.
Housing a priority
In 2007, Negotkuk had millions of dollars in debt and Ottawa imposed third-party management, meaning the group had to pay an outside agency to manage its financial affairs.
It’s a controversial intervention and leaders say the community has languished for 12 years.
More importantly, there has been no new housing construction.
Today, some 200 families are still waiting for adequate housing, says Ken Moulton, director of public works at Neqotkuk.
He says some families are doubling their existing housing stock. Overpopulation is a problem.
“I’m sure this contributes to a lot of other issues we have in the community,” Moulton said. “Because if you don’t have a good place to rest, do your homework, or invite your friends over, that’s a huge problem. “
Tana Pirie says the wind farm has helped restore hope and pride in the community.
As a former CEO, she took part in the first negotiations. She also traveled to the Netherlands and Germany to see how wind power has evolved over the centuries, from old-fashioned Dutch windmills to modern turbines.
“It helps you understand the longevity of this technology and how far it has come,” she said.
Because the site near Sussex was chosen for its winds and proximity to power lines, residents of Neqotkuk, who live nearly three hours away, don’t see it every day. But Pirie says they know it’s there.
“I drove a family member over on her way to Moncton and she said, ‘You know tears came to my eyes because I know they’re ours. “”